Hardware Ranch cancels sleigh rides for the season due to COVID-19 concerns; elk viewing still available 

A file photo of a wagon load of visitors returning to the loading zone at last years Elk Festival at Hardware Ranch.

HYRUM — The popular and long-standing tradition of sleigh rides through the elk herds at Hardware Ranch have been canceled this year due to the coronavirus, the Division of Wildlife Resources announced Tuesday. The decision to close the rides east of Hyrum was made after consulting with the Bear River Health Department.

A file photo of sleigh rides through wintering elk at Hardware Ranch.

Thousands of people have enjoyed rides in horse drawn sleighs while guides teach their passengers about the wild wapiti.  Though sleigh rides will not be offered at the popular winter destination, DWR invites the public to see the hundreds of elk as they feed.

Keeping people safe from COVID-19 is our top priority,” said Brad Hunt, manager of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Hardware Ranch Wildlife Management Area. “The sleighs we use are fairly long, but they’re also narrow. It’s impossible for people to be in the sleighs and maintain the recommended safe distance from other individuals and groups.”

For those that want to witness the elk from a moderate distance, the drive to Hardware Ranch is just 16 miles east of Hyrum on State Route 101. Officials suggest dressing warm, packing a lunch and bringing binoculars or a spotting scope. The visitor center will open Dec. 4 until Feb. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

A file photo of Marni Lee Hardware Ranch Utah Division of Wildlife Resources education coordinator said they generally have 20 to 30 thousand visitors during the winter.

The two viewing areas outside the center will provide great views of the elk every day of the week.

Hunt said they are still using protective measures to reduce visitor concerns.

“To keep people safe, COVID-19 protocols will be in place inside the visitor center,” Hunt said. “You must wear a mask. And, to keep the crowds small, we’ll limit the number of people who can be in the visitor center at any given time.”

After signing in, visitors can move into the indoor observation area. This area provides a great view of the meadow in which the elk are feeding. People can stay inside the visitor center for up to 15 minutes.

“We have to limit the amount of time to make sure we don’t get too many people inside the center at once,” Hunt said. “There’s lots to do outside the center.”

There is a one-page map and activity guide available at the Visitor Center and two viewing stations, complete with informative signs about the elk at the visitor center.

“You’ll need to bring your own binoculars or a spotting scope, but you’ll have a great view of hundreds of elk,” Hunt said.

The Wildlife Management staff are currently working on the activity that will be offered in the one-page guide. It will likely be a treasure-hunt type of activity you can do outside the visitor center with your children.

In addition to viewing elk and the activity, hiking the Curtis Creek Trail at the Wildlife Management Area is a great way to get away and enjoy the beauty of the area.

“If you’d like to hike the trail, it’s a good idea to bring snowshoes,” Hunt said. “The snow can get pretty deep, but the views in the winter are amazing.”

A file photo of Chance Getz one of the sleigh operators and guides stops to talking to his passengers about the elk at Hardware Ranch last year.

Great trout fishing is also available in the Blacksmith Fork River, which flows through the canyon leading to the ranch.

To try to minimize the risk to those who are in the COVID-19 high-risk category, those who aren’t high risk should wait until noon to enter the visitor center.

 

 

 

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